Afro Samurai Review

Slice it to pieces and dissect each individual limb like an adolescent science student with an unfortunate toad and you’ll find Afro Samurai contains everything it should. Everything’s even in the right places. Had this creature been a resident of the Gallapagos Islands, Darwin would’ve maybe called it “simple” from an evolutionary point of view.

Swath through dozens of enemies, trigger a boss fight, kill said boss, put the controller down and watch the following non-interactive cutscene – many of us have ventured down third-person action path before. But we’ve never done so while controlling a black protagonist in samurai garb while Samuel L. Jackson tells us to “hit that pussy.”

In the real world, people say these things. Sometimes they say things even more crass (shocking, I know)! As the first title under Namco Bandai’s new, more “mature,” publishing label called Surge, so can Afro, Ninja Ninja, and the rest of the stereotype-bending cast.

“You fucker!” yells a top-heavy half-naked stripper after I use Afro’s kitana to sever her fishnet-encased legs in two. I smile in response. My agile foe’s nimbly bimbly acrobatics abruptly ended after I pulled the left trigger, enabled slow-motion, and pinpointed her lower appendages as she attempted to dive over my character’s head.

Afro’s a tough dude, so nearly all enemies can be defeated using the simplest repeated inputs of the “X” button, but that’s no fun. Provided are dozens of moves and combos adventurous players can, and more than likely will, use. The depth is there, it’s just not absolutely necessary to progress through the story.

Following the plot of the anime’s first season, our poofy-haired protagonist seeks revenge for the murder of his father. The killer: a man named Justice. Lead producer David Robinson said he believes the narrative exists in an “alternate reality” where, by the game’s conclusion, Afro is a much more sublime and self-reflecting character. After watching the series and playing the game, I’m obligated to agree.

With a running time of just barely over one hour, Gonzo , the production house behind the anime, can only supply us with a limited amount narrative from Afro’s past and present. But with six hours, Namco and Bandai have mostly delivered a more effective and fleshed-out story…mostly.

Battles with many of the story’s key characters (call ’em “boss fights” if you want) require trial-and-error gameplay, with the player emerging the victor only after memorizing specific attack patterns. This (unfortunately) remains the norm in this industry, but it harms the immersion level presented by the game more than it does in other titles. Thanks to some incredible voicework and an intelligent script, these characters seem as real as they can be up until they engage the player in battle. At this point, the enemy transforms from an integral and well-realized part of the narrative into “just another videogame boss.”

This reliance on old-school design often infects the in-between-bosses gameplay. Some levels include longer gaps without narrative progression than others and instead force the player to continually engage in droves of dimwitted enemies. Maybe bad water is to blame for countless enemies remaining still while I dice their compatriots into neat little pieces, or maybe they’re just shocked by the existence of a black samurai. I’d move Afro away from their soul-piercing gazes and stuttered footsteps, but each fight is enclosed by the most powerful of invisible walls. “How does this relate to the story?” We may never know.

Imprecisely replicating Gonzo’s alluring visuals or the RZA’s transcendent audio would decimate the property’s identity, its charisma, its soul. In that respect, Afro delivers. Sketchy cel-shaded graphics give the world an intimate hand-drawn appeal while RZA’s influence permeates every note and every syllable spoken by the various independent artists included on the soundtrack. “They really fucking did it,” I remember myself saying. “They precisely translated the show’s feel to a videogame.” Afro should at least be commended for that, especially considering all the poor adaptations out there bearing little in common with their original properties.


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Author: Kyle Stallock View all posts by

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